Artist trans­forms ‘hill­billy house’

Cou­ple ren­o­vates home lo­cated on Van­cou­ver Is­land

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Recreation & Investment Properties - GRA­NIA LITWIN

With El­iz­a­bethan pe­riod fur­ni­ture, sculpted African heads, paint­ings from Spain, stand­ing stones from Sooke and even the mask of a mys­te­ri­ous green man from Eng­land, Cather­ine and Dun­can Regehr have made a bold artis­tic state­ment with their Shawni­gan Lake es­tate.

Since buy­ing the Van­cou­ver Is­land home more than a decade ago — when Cather­ine dubbed it the “hill­billy house” — the two have al­tered it be­yond recog­ni­tion, and the prop­erty too.

Now called The Wil­lows, af­ter a gi­ant tree where the drive flows into the prop­erty, it in­cludes an ex­panded 4,000-square-foot house, koi-stocked pond, enor­mous veg­etable gar­den, two-storey stu­dio and ex­ten­sive land­scap­ing.

“When we first saw the prop­erty, there was junk all over the place and where the pond is, there was a swamp with alder trees,” says Dun­can, who spent days dig­ging up mat­tresses, cribs, chil­dren’s bi­cy­cles and more from the bog.

“All kinds of mys­tery items had been thrown in,” he says with a chuckle. “We had an ex­ca­va­tor dig the pond and with the ma­te­rial he re­moved, we cre­ated mounds to help land­scape the prop­erty.”

Clear­ing the site was a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing.

“There was so much fo­liage, you couldn’t see much. An old rail­road used to come right through the prop­erty and there was an old, falling apart cabin filled with hor­rors that had to come down.”

Good thing trans­for­ma­tion is Dun­can’s spe­cialty. It also hap­pens to be the ti­tle of his art ex­hi­bi­tion on view at Vic­to­ria’s the Legacy Art Gallery.

Cather­ine was equally smit­ten by their new home, and ready to take on the chal­lenge.

“It was about half the size orig­i­nally, and we had to make ev­ery­thing a lit­tle bit larger — it needed a lot of TLC.” she says.

“But I liked the feel­ing the mo­ment I walked inside. Some houses, no mat­ter how beau­ti­ful, have some­thing about them you don’t like. This house just em­braced and wel­comed us. It has a soul — an en­ergy.”

They im­me­di­ately started knock­ing out walls, build­ing a new garage and try­ing to fig­ure out how to ex­pand the space.

“We had been look­ing and look­ing at dif­fer­ent ideas,” says Dun­can. “I was in­ter­ested in pre­sen­ta­tion and bal­ance, but nothing seemed to work. Then Cather­ine landed on the idea of two ad­di­tions and two gables.”

They moved the front door to the side as part of a new foyer, and added a sun­room with french doors on the other end.

That was so Dun­can could walk straight out to his stu­dio and go to work, as is his habit most morn­ings be­fore dawn.

An old barn, “a shell of a build­ing with a dirt floor,” soon mor­phed into his stu­dio. They poured con­crete with in-floor heat­ing and laid wooden floors on top.

“We also in­su­lated it and added beau­ti­ful new win­dows, a sec­ond-floor of­fice, sky­lights and a bath­room.”

The ex­te­rior re­mained the same be­cause they liked the look.

In the main house, they re­moved walls be­tween four small bed­rooms up­stairs and cre­ated a spa­cious li­brary and master suite with the help of lo­cal builder Tim McCooey.

“A great thing about a tim­ber-frame house is, you can put up or take down walls very sim­ply,” says Cather­ine. “It’s like houses in Bri­tain that are built like sec­tioned boxes.”

The stair­case orig­i­nally went up the cen­tre, with clos­ets un­der­neath, but they moved it to the side to open up the great room.

They also cre­ated a den with hid­den stor­age along one wall, and made a very large bath­room on the main floor into a small bed­room.

A util­ity room be­came the down­stairs bath­room, and a laun­dry was added, along with the garage. Dec­o­rat­ing the in­te­rior pre­sented no

C MVisit our web­site un­der the head­ing, ‘Rec Prop­er­ties,’ for more pho­tos and sto­ries. chal­lenge for th­ese creative char­ac­ters.

“We both fancy dark fur­ni­ture, El­iz­a­bethan and ear­lier pieces, and lean toward some­thing with beams and won­der­ful wood be­cause we love old English homes,” says Dun­can, an artist, ac­tor and writer.

He has worked all over the world, shoot­ing the Zorro se­ries in Spain for al­most four years, and movies in Africa, Lon­don, South Amer­ica and more.

The two met in Toronto when he was work­ing there three decades ago, and moved to Hol­ly­wood, where they were based from 1980 un­til about five years ago.

It’s no sur­prise the house brims with art­work and fur­ni­ture they have col­lected over the years, from places rang­ing from Africa and China to the Far and Mid­dle East, the Philip­pines and Europe.

“I’m in­ter­ested in his­tory and an­thro­pol­ogy — that’s what fas­ci­nates me,” says Dun­can.

It’s a very com­fort­able and invit­ing house, filled with things they love, says Cather­ine, who added it’s ideal for en­ter­tain­ing, with its large open plan and park-like gar­den where friends wan­der.

“I don’t buy some­thing be­cause it is trendy — I be­lieve ev­ery­thing you bring into your home has to be some­thing you re­ally like, like a friend,” says Cather­ine.

She had al­ways liked the look of wil­low fences in Bri­tain and drew up some ideas for the veg­etable gar­den.

Their first con­cern was build­ing some­thing that would be deer proof, “but I didn’t want it to look like Sta­lag 19.”

So she de­signed a rus­tic dou­ble fence, sim­i­lar to the wil­low ones they’d seen in Eng­land. Dun­can trans­lated the plans into re­al­ity af­ter gath­er­ing hun­dreds of alder saplings from all over the prop­erty.

Watch­ing him wheel­bar­row them around was like a scene from a Thomas Hardy novel, she jokes, and the result is an en­clo­sure with an eight­foot fence on the inside and a four-foot high one out­side.

The par­al­lel fences are spaced just far enough apart for a large wheel­bar­row to trun­dle be­tween.

Wrought-iron arches, cov­ered with clema­tis, mark the cor­ners and the in­te­rior fence is strewn with masses of roses, sweet peas, es­paliered ap­ple, pear, cherry and plum trees.

The own­ers grow flow­ers, fruits, herbs and veg­eta­bles in their or­ganic gar­den — ev­ery­thing from fen­nel, dill, cilantro and oregano to col­lard greens, gar­lic, leek, rhubarb and green beans.

And this year, they have a bumper crop of blue­ber­ries.

As part of the new land­scape con­cept, Dun­can also moved the drive­way, which used to come into the prop­erty past the stu­dio.

“I changed it to sweep around the pond,” he says. He then placed large stand­ing stones ar­tis­ti­cally around the pond and es­tate.

He even cre­ated a mini Stone­henge in the back gar­den, with stones he dec­o­rated with carv­ings of the runic al­pha­bet and other in­scrip­tions.

“We brought them with us from our pre­vi­ous home in Sooke, in a huge dump truck.”

Luck­ily, his fa­ther had taught him the power of ful­crums, levers and bal­ance.

Pho­tos, De­bra Brash, Times-colonist

The liv­ing room of the Shawni­gan es­tate, which is called The Wil­lows, con­tains a wall of win­dows.

The orig­i­nal home on the prop­erty was about half its cur­rent size.

Pho­tos, De­bra Brash, Vic­to­ria Times-colonist

Plates and brass caul­drons add a touch of cosy home­y­ness to the kitchen within the house.

A door adds char­ac­ter to the en­trance of the home.

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